8 simple tricks to make the most of your wardrobe

Now that I'm officially more than one month into my "no new things for a year" challenge, I'd like to step on to my soapbox for a moment and tell you what I've learned over the past four weeks of controlling my impulses to shop and living with what's already in my closet. It been much easier than I anticipated, and I love that it's a built-in excuse to wear things that I bought, love, but never wear.

In no particular order, here are the eight tactics I've been employing to find fresh ways to style my closet:

#1 Rethink seasonal clothing

When I considered starting this challenge, I did a little bit of "stocking up" on winter basics. After several weeks of styling my J.Crew tissue turtlenecks, I'll admit that I started to get bored. Fortunately, it dawned on me that half of my wardrobe was boxed up in another room under the "spring/summer" category. Pulling that out and considering what could be added to my winter wardrobe really helped me. I added white jeans, lightweight shirt dresses, and tees and tank tops to my closet without spending a dime.

#2 Use your suits in new ways

My closet has an entire section devoted to "business formal" clothing, and re-thinking those items has been a game-changer for me. I've changed out the buttons on an Italian wool double-breasted blazer and have been wearing it casually with tees and jeans. A formerly "office only" Brooks Brothers A-line skirt went casual with lace up booties and a tee shirt for a Saturday night on the town. I've also started traveling with one suit each week, forcing myself to use it as the base for my Monday through Thursday outfits. It's made my packing much easier, and I honestly think committing to four suit-based outfits has made me better dressed for work.

#3 Do a coat or bag of the week

This tactic has made me much more creative about styling my winter outfits: I've been selecting one coat and one bag to use for the entire week, and building my outfits around it. My totes are getting much more face-time, and I'm learning which of my coats are truly timeless versus the ones I can live without (and will donate or sell once the weather warms up in Chicago).

#4 DIY instead of buy

One of the biggest trends that hit my wardrobe this January was the distressed black jeans look. I've had my eye on them for a while, and old Colleen back in November would have just paid $200 for a designer pair. New, smarter Colleen stopped by her local neighborhood thrift store, picked up a pair of $2 black skinny jeans, and went at them with an Xacto knife.  Seriously, I cannot tell you how many people have asked me where I got these.

#5 Just fix it

If you're anything like me, you have a small collection of things that are damaged, broken, or missing a piece. There have been several pieces of broken costume jewelry that I've held on to for years, thinking that I'd fix them but never making the time to do it. On a Saturday afternoon that I normally would have spent mindlessly shopping for new costume jewelry, I decided to stop by the craft store and pick up earring backings, links and all of the bits and pieces I'd need to bring my beloved old pieces back to life. It was incredibly satisfying to get these pieces back up and running, and also inspired me to try making some jewelry from scratch while I was at it!

#6 Rethink your "dressy" and "casual" classifications

In addition to rethinking the "business formal" section of my closet, I applied the same principle to my "dressy" section. In the past month, I've worn a silk-and-feathered dress with a tissue turtleneck to a house party, teamed a blue "work shirt" with leather leggings, and paired a gilded skirt formerly reserved for cocktail events with a Breton stripe tee and heels for a dinner. Getting past the internal rules I've created for my clothes jump-started my creativity, and taught me the important lesson that rules are made to be broken - it's something I think most stylists intuitively do, but is harder for us common folk because we love clinging to rules…

#7 Tap unconventional resources

My husband's closet is a treasure trove of perfect pieces, like gray wool sweaters that drape perfectly and oversize, crisp white dress shirts that look amazing with leggings and booties. Sharing this challenge with my friends and colleagues has led to some great trades and plans to borrow and rotate. One stylish lady on my project has offered up her black wool Ted Baker blazer coat in temporary exchange for my herringbone Vera Wang number in a similar style. My friend Ashley with amazing taste and my same shoe size is going through her collection for me to "shop" in exchange for a few things that I should have given to her long ago!

#8 Rotate your basics

This is a really easy one that has paid huge dividends for me. I spend some time organizing my closet and dresser into "basic pieces" (simple shapes, quality fabrics, goes-with-anything styles) and "spicy pieces" (wild patterns and colors, short hemlines, out-there styles, feathers, etc.) and have been rotating my basic pieces to add more variety. I tend to default to the same basic tee shirts, sweaters and jeans, so I've imposed time limits on wearing the same item. After a couple of weeks of the same basics, I've been boxing them up out of sight and putting rarely worn items on display to force myself to add variety and treat my pieces equally. It's been a fun challenge, and is also helping me to identify the

specific reasons

why I love a particular piece so I know exactly what to look for when I want to buy something similar (instead of just buying every pair of black mid-calf booties on the market, for example).

Ok, getting off my soapbox now. There are several of you who have joined this challenge in part, and have been working with what you have for the past several weeks as well. I'd love to hear any styling tricks and tactics you've picked up along the way!

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